After the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster proved just how dangerous a mission to space can be, trips to maintain the Hubble telescope were cancelled. But thanks to an emotional appeal from the scientific community and the bravery of one group of astronauts, the Hubble rescue mission is back on.
For 20 years, the Hubble telescope has whirled around the Earth at 17,000 miles an hour, capturing nearly a million amazing images of galaxies, black holes and planets billions of light years away.
But the world's most famous telescope — which many believe is key to discovering new worlds and possibly life on other planets — is dying. Its batteries and many of its instruments are failing.
"I think in the big picture Hubble is something that I certainly feel is worth risking my life for, because it is about something that is so much bigger than all of us," said Hubble mission astronaut John Grunsfeld.
Astronauts Fight for Mission
Five years ago NASA organized a mission to repair the Hubble, but the mission was scrapped in the wake of the tragic Columbia accident.
Astronauts devoted to Hubble fought to save this vital window to the universe. They sent a letter to President George W. Bush, asking him to reinstate the mission.
Finally, after working for more than a year for the green light on the mission, the operation is scheduled to begin on Aug. 7, 2008.
"We studied it for 18 months, but we did find a way … to do it safely," said NASA administrator Mike Griffin.
Still, it's a death-defying mission. If something goes wrong with the shuttle on a routine trip to the space station, astronauts can stay there for up to two months with plenty of food, water and oxygen while waiting for a rescue mission.
On the upcoming mission to Hubble, which orbits 360 miles above Earth, if there's a problem, NASA will have just days to launch a second shuttle to rescue the stranded astronauts.
Despite the risk, those who volunteered for the mission say they have no second thoughts.
"I have thought a lot about that after Columbia," said Commander Scott Altman. "This mission is as safe as we can make it and the risk is appropriate for the reward."
Grunsfeld says: "It is about science, it is about inspiration, it is about discovery, it is about all the kids who will look at the Hubble images and dream."
Hubble's rebirth means nothing less than the possibility of learning just who and what we share the universe with.
"We are going to see parts of the universe we have never seen before, we are going to find extra solar planets and atmospheres around them and give a first hint what planets can be made of and ultimately is there life out there," said Hubble director Dr. Matt Mountain.